Good News? (A Quasi-Political Post)

I need you to trust me.

If you have followed my writings over the last decade you know that I do not like politics. In fact, I hate politics. I believe the confluence of politics and religion has been one of the greatest dividers and antagonizers within the Church as a whole. And, as a result, I spend my energy working to unite people from all political persuasions into the only thing that can cover a multitude of sins, a multitude of ideologies, a multitude of political persuasions- the love of God.

For it is the love of God, singularly, that can save us from ourselves, as impossible as that may seem sometimes.

But at the same time, you should know that since I do not care for either political party, I try to speak as much unbiased truth as I can, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t have skin in the game.

So with all of that being said, please know that my intention with this post is not to make some political statement, or to take some supposed political side, because I am not. Neither right nor left, blue nor red, liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat will save us. I am simply trying to work through some of the great divides I observe within the American Church in light of political influence and power.

This post began writing itself last week when I saw an article about Vice President Mike Pence, who by the way is from my hometown and my alma mater (Columbus, Indiana and Hanover College), addressing a pastors conference (and now the Southern Baptist Convention) in which he was a surprise speaker. It was this specific line that hit me, and then subsequently made me reflect upon it. It was when he told the audience of pastors to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe that line doesn’t really stand out to you. In fact, I would be surprised if it did stand out to you in any appreciable way because it is the very backbone of Christianity and a very common thing for a Christian leader to say. So it’s no real surprise that someone would say something like that at a preachers conference.

But the reason it hit me in such a weird way the other day was because there is a growing number of Christians, like me, who see how un-Christlike our government is, whether it be the current administration or past administrations, and the Vice President’s call to “share the good news of Jesus Christ,” seemed to ring a bit hollow in light of the current un-Christlike administration.

I need to be clear here. I am not at all doubting the Vice President’s sincerity or his allegiance to his faith. That’s not it at all. As you will soon see, the main point of this post really doesn’t have anything to do with the Vice President or the administration. I truly believe that from Pence’s perspective, he believes that the work he is doing, and the work that the Trump administration is doing by proxy, is largely in alignment with the “good news of Jesus Christ.” And his rally cry at the preacher’s conference was his clarion call for them to join him in this good news mission. Again, I do not doubt his sincerity or allegiance to his faith at all.

I just believe it is mistaken and misaligned.

The problem is that there are those of us who see the “good news of Jesus Christ” differently, who see that the character and policies of the Trump administration (and the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations of the past) as un-Christlike, and who believe that any pronouncement of the “good news of Jesus Christ” ought to be accompanied by a people resolved to be like the Christ they profess to follow.

I want to be consistent, though. I am not saying that I believe a country should, or even could, be Christlike because I don’t think that is even possible, nor is it what Jesus ever intended. But, when Christianity is so actively and vociferously bandied about by the current administration, and then used as their basis for policy decisions, it begs for serious accountability and critique by those who take following the way of Jesus seriously.

So here are a few questions I would have.

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it has no real bearing on us becoming more like Christ in our lives?

Ought not the preaching of the “good news of Jesus Christ” be accompanied by lives and initiatives that look Christlike?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if the policies of the United States are rarely Christlike, or not Christlike at all?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it really isn’t good news for people living today?

Does the Good News have any real world influence, or is it just something that guarantees a future in heaven?

Of course these questions are rhetorical, but they really bring to light the deeper problem we have within American Christianity in how we view the “good news of Jesus Christ,” and what it ought to mean for the here and now. And believe me, this problem is at the very center of the issues we have with each other in the larger American Church.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we have two very different and distinct understandings of what the “good news of Jesus Christ” even is. And it is this difference in understanding that has led to very different ideas about what that means in the world and then how that ought to be expressed.

Some Christians believe the “good news of Jesus Christ” is the saving work of God through Christ accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross in order to defeat sin and death, thereby satisfying the wrath of God and granting forgiveness to all who repent and are baptized so that they may go to heaven for eternity in a spiritual afterlife.

The limitation of this understanding of the “good news” is that it does not offer a cohesive moral lens through which to see the world. Because this understanding is largely end-oriented, it is significantly limited in how to view (and relate) to the world presently.

That is why many within this version of the “good news” have adopted the most accessible lens in front of them to understand the world- the Judeo-Christian American lens.

Within the vacuum created by only using Jesus as a means of salvation, but not the lens through which they view all things, they needed some sort of lens to make moral sense of our country and world. And the Judeo-Christian American lens was the most accessible, because it was the one handed down from generation to generation in America.

The problem is that the Judeo-Christian American ethic is a mishmash of selective and inconsistent ethics from the Old and New Testaments. And those who see the world through that Judeo-Christian lens seek to impose those values on the governmental system as their ultimate goal, because they believe it is what God has always wanted. The Judeo-Christian American ethic is believed to be fundamentally and unequivocally Christian by those Christians who use it as their lens, even though its ethics are thoroughly un-Christlike.

A Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic. There is no such hybrid entity within Christ. To be a Christian means to follow the ethic of Christ. It does not mean ascribing to a mishmash of selective values that can be molded to your liking, or to your political leaning.

I am not pointing a finger of judgment here, because this is the quasi-Christian mumbo-jumbo that we have all been sold for generations. The problem is that a Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic and we are mistaken if we believe they are synonymous.

However, there are those, including me, who believe that the “good news of Jesus Christ,” which Jesus and Paul referred to as the “good news of the Kingdom of God,” is an entirely different nation and citizenship without boundaries or divisions or hierarchies, and whose values look exactly, and consistently, like the king in this kingdom… Jesus.

Yes, we still believe that the forgiveness of God was given to all as a peace-offering through Christ crucified, that sin and death were triumphed over in the resurrection of the Christ, and that God longs for all to repent (for all to change their minds about God and be transformed in the process of reconciling their relationship) and to be immersed heart, mind, body, and soul into this new reality of living, this Kingdom of God.

But it goes much further than that. Jesus isn’t simply a means to an end. Jesus is the means and the end. Jesus isn’t just good for getting to heaven. Jesus is the template and the lens by which we pattern our lives and through whom we see all things.

The good news of the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the selective and inconsistent morality of the Judeo-Christian American lens.

For example, when we say “pro-life,” we believe that God loves all life from womb to tomb, not just in the womb, because that is what Jesus taught and what Jesus embodied. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that all people are loved and worthy. And in this Kingdom, like Jesus, one does not see enemy-combatants or people worthy of death row or illegal aliens or garbage human beings or humans referred to as animals. We simply see people who are made in the image of God and loved by God. We see, like Jesus, people that we are to love with our heart, mind, body, and soul. And that may make us stupid and worthy of ridicule for loving so recklessly, but it is consistently with who Jesus called his followers to be.

And that is just one difference, among so many, between the selective and inconsistent Judeo-Christian American ethic and the universal and consistent good news of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to know how to see the world and other people when Jesus alone is the lens through which we see all things.

Let me give another example to illustrate the profound difference between the two lenses.

A Pew Research article posted on May 24, 2018 looked at whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees.

Of every single demographic analyzed in the study, from age to gender to class to ethnicity to education level, the groups MOST AGAINST the United States accepting refugees were the white, Protestant Evangelicals at nearly 70% and white, Protestants at 50%.

The people of Jesus. The people of compassion. The people who have become the very “body of Christ” in the world. The people of the “Good News.” The people who are to see others as Jesus sees them, is the single demographic MOST AGAINST accepting and helping a refugee.

When a Christian religion adopts a lens through which to view the world that is in stark contrast to the lens of Jesus, this is exactly what we end up with. Whether or not one breaks an American law, whether or not a person deserves the help, whether or not the person comes from another country or not, the good news of the Kingdom of God welcomes in and cares for the foreigner, the outcast, and those pushed to the edges of society. The good news of the Kingdom of God has deep, deep compassion for the poor seeking a better life, for those being hunted and killed by their own domestic oppressors, and for those seeking religious asylum from violent regimes. A people who understands the good news of the Kingdom of God is not singularly concerned preaching about the self-sacrificing Christ. We are resolved to pattern our lives after, and see the world through, the self-sacrificing Christ.

That’s the difference.

And I believe that is why there are so many Christians who think that the current administration is “doing the Lord’s work,” while there are just as many of us Christians who believe the current administration is an affront to Christ. Because without making Jesus the lens through which all things are seen, one can pick and choose which ethical concerns are “more important” or more “politically satisfying” or “more in line with American interests,” than with the Jesus they profess to follow.

It may be time for us to have deeper discussions with each other about what the good news is and what it really means for the world today.

Peace…

Brandon

One New Humanity

I remember sitting in an undergrad philosophy class at Hanover College in which the professor, discussing the limitations, nuances, and intricacies of human language, explained to us that while we English speakers have one word for the frozen precipitation that falls from the sky, snow, the Inuit people have over 50 words to describe every variation and type of snow.

I have to admit at being amazed at such detail of observation and nuance of experience.

There is a real beauty in being able to use descriptive words and language to paint a mental picture for others that is rich and vibrant in it’s specificity and detail. As a writer, I am continually reminded of the importance of words and how appreciative readers are at being able to participate in an experience, at being able to feel a visceral connection, and at being able to imagine the intricate details of an image… all through words.

Words can bring observations and experiences to life.

However, our diversity in words and language make us expert classifiers and near-obsessive labelers.

And you may be wondering why you picked up on a bit of cynicism with that last sentence.

While we all may not have the exhaustingly expressive, yet delightfully observant-of-every-fine-detail chops of Dostoevsky, we all have an almost innate need for descriptors. We are hard-wired, it seems, with the ability to observe, discriminate, label, and classify.

Of course this is not inherently bad and actually serves many good and useful purposes, however, our specificity in precise and meticulous observations, our keen eye at discriminating, our acuteness in classifying and labeling can actually, consequently and unintentionally, limit our experiences and create divisions of reality.

Rather than seeing people as they are, rather than enjoying experiences for what they are, we very naturally, maybe even unconsciously, begin to divide all things into categories and groups, which can then very easily lead to the creation of dualities and hierarchies, and then ultimately antagonisms and conflicts among the divisions, simply by the categories in which we place people and experiences and then by what we subsequently believe about them based solely upon how they are described, labeled, or categorized.

Let me be very clear in what I am saying.

We live in a time in which there are hyper-obsessions with how we describe ourselves, how we label others and put them into categories, how we begin to assign worth and value based upon the label a person or group wears and the category in which a person or group identifies, and then how we begin to live in division and conflict, either mentally or physically, with a labeled and categorized person or group… without ever knowing the person behind the label.

The sad and tragic reality is that underneath a label or a classification is a person, a flesh and blood human being, a living and breathing creation with a soul, who has been reduced to a cheap descriptor, who is only seen as an easy label for how they are described, who is stereotyped and caricatured, not for the depth of who they are, or as one uniquely created by God, but as an object that can be disrespected, diminished, and discarded.

God help us.

We are in a very precarious time in history.  The discriminating generalizations and xenophobic stereotypes, the widening fissures and the deepening crevasses in relationships, and then the tectonic plates of verbal and physical conflict between people and groups are shaking the foundations on which we stand. We are on the precipice of a cultural civil war and it is a dark manifestation of our fearful individualism, our isolated homogeny, and our dehumanization and devaluation of “those people” (whoever “those people” are, but it seems like there are more “those people” than ever today).

Our rugged individualism has failed us.

Maybe we are too deeply entrenched in our individual hatreds. Maybe we have sold our souls too long ago to the political machines of rancor and antagonism. Maybe we have pledged allegiance to our own interests in the world. Maybe we have been shackled to religions of rightness (and everyone’s wrongness) for too long.

I don’t know.

Maybe we are just too far gone for solutions.

But as one who actually believes that the time in which we live is rich with opportunity for a new and better humanity (and maybe it has taken us seeing the ugliness of humanity for us to have a longing for a new kind of humanity), I want to invite you out of the division and destruction and antipathy and hatred that surrounds us, maybe even that in which you have participated, and into a uniting and edifying reality built upon goodness and love for all people that no longer sees the world as we versus they, but simply as we.

I am not sure if you have ever considered this, but up until the time of Jesus the trajectory of the biblical narrative was a devolution into division, classification, and labeling that then further disintegrated into dualistic thinking, hateful discrimination, fearful xenophobia, we/they mentalities, cyclical conflicts, ethnic and religious prejudices, political animosities, and perpetual wars.

And this cycle played out over and over and over and over.

Does it sound familiar?

But with the introduction of Jesus, this tired and predictable trajectory ended.

Please do not tune me out here.

When I talk about Jesus, I am not referring to anything or anyone but Jesus Christ alone, because so many people, churches, and institutions have twisted Jesus into something he never was.

So I am not talking about churches, evangelicalism, institutional religion, or any other deviation of religion that has abandoned, maligned, or distorted the way of Jesus.

I am talking to you, right now, about Jesus Christ alone.

Because in Jesus, and in the message Jesus preached, you find the most revolutionary, counter-cultural, and radical movement in the history of the planet.

And that is not some crazy, religious claim.

At the height of dualistic thinking, hateful discrimination, fearful xenophobia, we/they mentalities, cyclical conflicts, ethnic and religious prejudices, political animosities, and perpetual wars, Jesus started a movement away from classifications, labels, and divisions which then began to erase dividing lines and hierarchies and conflicts… all with the most unlikely people from every disparate part of life.

Jesus faced, head on, ethnocentrism and racism. Jesus stood up to inequality and social stratification. Jesus embraced the uncivilized, the disabled, the outcast, the stigmatized, the unclean, the infected, the sinner. Jesus broke every glass ceiling of every institution and construct of his time (and even ours today).

No longer were people to be seen as Jew or Gentile, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer were people to be viewed as rich or poor, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer were people to be viewed as male or female, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer were people to be viewed as barbarians or civilized, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer were people to be viewed as clean or unclean, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer were people to be labeled or classified, no longer were people to be divided against or placed in hierarchies, no longer were people to live in conflict or hostility, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

In this one new humanity, Christ is all, and is in all. And in this one new humanity we no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view. In Christ, the old ways have gone, and the new ways have come- one new humanity. For in this one new humanity, we unite and align in Christ and in values that transcend every dividing line.

That is the radical beauty of the message Jesus preached- That humanity would no longer align by label or classification, but would unite and align in a love that transcends every label, every classification, every ideology, and every division.

No longer are we to be Protestant or Catholic, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be fundamentalists or progressives, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be those on the inside or those on the outside, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be Democrats or Republicans, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be Conservative or Progressive, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be legal citizen or illegal alien, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be privileged or under-privileged, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be gay or straight, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be transgendered or cisgendered, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be religious or atheist, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

No longer are we to be American or Pakistani or Afghani or Korean or Venezuelan, because in Christ there is one new humanity.

For it is through Christ in which all things were created. And by Christ that all things hold together. And in Christ that God reconciled all things to himself. That’s the good news.

And we continue this reconciliation by inviting everyone out of the labels, classifications, dividing lines, and hostilities.

I was listening to some friends, who had long histories as Conservative Evangelicals and who had more recently swung far the other direction toward Progressivism, discuss the recent failures of political progressivism. They had finally come to the realization that labels, descriptors, and classifiers no longer work and that there has to be something more. One friend even said, “I am not even sure if there is anything that adequately describes or represents us.”

And there is a growing number of individuals, like my friends, who are coming to the same realization about the failure of labels, descriptors, and classifiers and how ineffective they are and how divided they make us, one against another.

Here is the truth.

That which we long for, that which we strive for, can not be named or contained within those things that promotes antagonism and keeps us divided. They have never been found there and never will be. It is a dead end road.

However, that which we long for, that which we strive for, can only be found in the love of Christ that transcends every label, every descriptor, every classification, and every dividing line and then manifests in a growing movement of peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restorative justice, and unity.

Let me say that again, the love of Christ transcends every label, every descriptor, every classification, and every dividing line. And it is the love of Christ alone in which we should find our identity and the only place where we should reside, for it is the only place where every person in the world is welcome, treated equally, and loved fully for who they are.

Peace and love…

Brandon